India needs to shift focus from its border with Pakistan to that with China, Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat said today, cautioning that the country cannot allow its neighbours to drift towards China, virtually asking the government to effectively implement its 'neighbourhood first' policy.
Admitting that Chinese troops have been ramping up pressure along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), he asserted that China may be a powerful country but India too is not a weak nation.
In a media address on the eve of the Army Day, Rawat said countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan have to be kept on board as part of a broader strategy to deal with China, and India must make "wholehearted" efforts to continue extending support to them.
We cannot allow the neighbourhood to be drifted away from us --whether it is Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Afghanistan. These nations have to be kept on board, and I think we have to put in our wholehearted effort to ensure we continue to support them.Gen Bipin Rawat, Indian Army Chief
The Army chief's comments assume significance given that in recent past, China has been deepening ties with some South Asian nations and providing them with huge financial aid, which, some experts feel, may draw India's neighbours including the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal towards Beijing.
These countries have been traditionally close to New Delhi.
Underlining the need for shifting attention from the western border with Pakistan to the northern frontier with China, Rawat said, "For too long, we have kept our focus on the western front. I think time has come for us to focus on the northern border. Therefore, our infrastructure development on the northern border has to be speeded up." Referring to India shoring up ties with other countries, he said, "We are seeking support of other nations, group of nations in the region, to see that we are not isolated completely in a situation in Asia against an assertive China. That is the next step that is being taken and, therefore, you will find that a quadrilateral is formed."
In November last year, India, Japan, Australia and the U.S. had set the ball rolling for forming a quadrilateral coalition in the Indo-Pacific region to pursue their common interests, a move seen as a measure to counter growing Chinese influence.
He said there are other countries that are coming on board to support India in whatever way they can.
"At the military level, we know that if there is a threat from China, we have to be prepared for it," he said, adding India's military engagement with almost all nations of the region are of a high order.
The Army is concentrating more on the neighbourhood than beyond as this will enable India to balance the Chinese assertiveness, he said.
We know China is a powerful country but let us also not forget that we are not a weak nation. Let’s not get so worried. We are dealing with the situation. We are confident we will be able to handle the situation.Gen Bipin Rawat, Indian Army Chief
Rawat said China has been keeping its troops in north Doklam. India is dealing with China at different levels including through diplomatic engagement, he added.
He also admitted that China was exerting pressure along several border areas, but India made sure the situation did not escalate beyond a point.
"Yes, it (China) is exerting pressure. We are prepared for it, but as I said we are dealing with it at different levels. Our intention always is that whenever he exerts pressure, we should try not escalate it beyond a limit. We will not allow our territory to be invaded or intruded upon. Whenever an intrusion takes place to our territory, we will defend our territory because that is a charter given to us," he said.
Troops of India and China were locked in a 73-day-long standoff in Doklam since June 16 after the Indian side stopped construction of a road in the disputed area by the Chinese Army. Bhutan and China have a dispute over Doklam. The face- off had ended on August 28.
Asked about the Doklam standoff, he said Chinese side had undertaken some activities in June 2016 also but last year India decided to intervene when they came to build a road in the strategically important area.
He said movement of Chinese troops may take place after winter and Indian Army will take a call then considering the situation.
"The People's Liberation Army of China has occupied the area in the west of Torsa nullah called northern Doklam. At the actual spot the two sides have disengaged. The tents remain. The observation posts remain. This is a territory disputed between Bhutan and China," he said.
Asked about increasing cases of transgressions by China along the border, he said India has increased intensity of border patrol as a result of which "contacts" between troops of the two sides are going up.
He said at times, transgressions take place due to varying perception of the LAC.
Referring to Tuting incident in Arunachal Pradesh, he said the issue was resolved amicably, adding Chinese road building teams may have come there not knowing that the area belongs to India.
He said there are several areas along the border which are vulnerable due to lack of infrastructure, noting adequate number of troops have been deployed to deal with any eventualities in those locations.
Rawat said the Army was focusing on improving border infrastructure to ensure that speedy movement of ammunition and troops.